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My perfect parting gift would be to lead Ulster to title joy: Ruan Pienaar

By Michael Sadlier

Nearly a month after it was revealed to a stunned Ulster Rugby public that Ruan Pienaar must leave at season's end, the South African star has spoken of his desire to sign off on a high to end his six years in Belfast.

The 32-year-old wanted to finish his career here and was visibly upset at the IRFU-enforced ruling that he cannot be granted a contract extension at Ulster due to the national game's succession policy regarding homegrown talent.

Since his emotional pitchside interview after Ulster's first PRO12 game, he has, understandably, not been airing his thoughts while the dust has settled over what was quite a spat between the game's governing body and Ulster Rugby over Pienaar's exit.

But now he has had time to reflect on the fact that come next summer he will be moving on, with France - and more specifically Montpellier, where Scotland coach Vern Cotter takes over from South African Jake White for next season - being the likely destination for his services.

Pienaar has revealed just what Ulster means to him and his family and has, unsurprisingly, made it known just how much he wants to finish up here by ending the province's alarming trophy drought that has lasted since 2006.

"Every opportunity I get in this jersey is now special to me," Pienaar, who has worn the Ulster shirt 122 times, said yesterday.

"I think for me now it's about enjoying the time that I have left in this jersey.

"It's meant a lot to me over the years and every opportunity I get is now about playing as well as I possibly can."

And when it comes to finally securing an elusive trophy, the Springbok World Cup winner is unequivocal in what he hopes will happen over the next eight months.

Not that Pienaar hasn't always yearned for success at Ulster, it's just that now with his departure date just over the horizon there is a pressing need to deliver on what he aimed to achieve here since arriving in Belfast in autumn 2010.

"I'd really like to leave here with something to show for it," he said. "That's always been my aim since I came over here, to try and win trophies.

"I really believe that we've got a good enough group of players to do that, so hopefully the way we've started this season will carry on to give us the opportunity to do that (win a trophy).

"That would be a great ending to what has been a really enjoyable time with Ulster."

So when it comes to motivation, it seems there is something extra within him to try and pay back the faith shown in him by Ulster Rugby and their supporters over the six years he has spent with his adopted province.

"I'm enjoying my time here at the minute and that's definitely given me more motivation knowing that it's my last season over here," the 88-times capped Springbok revealed.

Ulster's start to the season - where they have racked up four wins from four games to top the league table - has certainly laid down a marker with last Friday's stunning victory in Glasgow, their first league success at Scotstoun after five defeats there, helping create a momentum that Pienaar is determined to continue when the Ospreys call at the Kingspan on Saturday evening.

"Yes, it's been a pleasing start to the season," Ulster's frontline scrum-half admitted.

"And to get those wins under our belt has been really important.

"Hopefully this momentum will carry us through the next couple of weeks and also into Europe.

"From the team's point of view there's a good vibe within the squad and it's just brilliant to be a part of it."

Meanwhile, former Ulster coach Alan Solomons has quit Edinburgh after the Scottish club lost three of their opening four Guinness PRO12 games.

The South African will be replaced by Duncan Hodge on a caretaker basis after ending his three-year spell in charge, although the latter will be given the chance to stake his claim for the job on a permanent basis.

Solomons has not managed to secure a PRO12 finish higher than eighth place, but he did lead Edinburgh all the way to the European Challenge Cup final in 2015, where they lost 19-13 to Gloucester.

In a statement issued by the Scottish Rugby Union, Solomons said: "I have decided to step down.

"I understand Scottish Rugby have appointed Duncan Hodge as the new acting head coach and I wish him well.

"I have greatly enjoyed working with the players and coaches and feel I have helped to put the club on a much stronger footing over the past three years and am leaving it in a better place than when I arrived."

• Ireland international prop Nathan White is to retire from rugby on medical advice following a concussion injury.

White's provincial team Connacht and the Irish Rugby Football Union made a joint announcement that 35-year-old White's career is over.

Born in New Zealand, he qualified for Ireland on residency grounds and won 13 caps in 2015 and 2016, including being part of Ireland's World Cup campaign last year.

"While it's disappointing to finish up this way and not on my own terms, I feel that I can look back at my rugby career with a lot of pride," White said.

"I am retiring at 35 years of age and with so many great memories from my time playing in both New Zealand and Ireland.

"I am not sure what exactly the future holds, but I know I am really excited about it.

"I've loved my time as a player, but feel I am ready to move on now and challenge myself in other ways."

White captained Waikato before making the move to Ireland.

He initially played for Leinster under current Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt, before joining Connacht four years ago in 2012.

Connacht chief executive Willie Ruane added: "Nathan has been a very important part of the team and organisation over the last number of years.

"He has contributed a great deal to the culture here and has inspired so many young players with his leadership on and off the pitch.

"He will, of course, be sorely missed at Connacht Rugby, but he can be proud of what he has achieved both here and with Ireland."

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